First Drive Impression: Toyota Hilux Legend (2021)
At first glance, the updates applied to the 2021 Toyota Hilux amount mostly to minor cosmetic surgery and some equipment improvements. But, under the skin, a host of refinements combine to create a rather different driving experience. We spent some time behind the steering wheel of a new Hilux Legend to get to the bottom of the story.
We’re just about halfway through the current-generation Hilux’s lifecycle, so it was time for Toyota to introduce some significant enhancements to their winning formula – especially in the face of competition that’s becoming more appealing all the time. But how well does it all come together to improve on the Hilux? A brief stint behind the wheel revealed much of the effectiveness of this round of improvements, and it’s good news all around.
Does it look good in the metal (and plastic)?
Our first personal acquaintance with the latest Hilux involved the new, range-topping “Legend” trim level – the one with all the styling bits and pieces and contrasting fender extensions. The good news is that it looks pretty good up close and personal, with an aggressive visage and real presence on the road. In fact, the new face and styling add-ons create the kind of visual impact that many new bakkie buyers desire, and could (up till now) only obtain by fitting aftermarket items.
This new appearance will likely not be to everybody’s taste, mind you: conservative types will probably baulk at the elaborate plastic decorations, but those buyers can always opt for a less-ornate-looking Raider instead. But, in whichever of the two top trim levels, the new Hilux does look significantly different from the outgoing model, and represents another step in the right direction for the styling of this sales chart-topping bakkie.
And that new engine?
For starters, its response to accelerator input is more progressive than before (a big bonus while off-roading), while at the same time clearly drawing from a deeper reserve of torque. In this respect, Toyota’s claim of a wider and higher torque curve does seem to hold water, because it feels considerably less lethargic than the pre-update 2.8 GD-6 engine did when hooked to the autobox.
It’s also noticeably quieter and more refined than before, likely thanks in equal parts to the addition of a counter-rotating balance shaft to the crankcase, the new turbo, and the new diesel injection system. Keeping it all under control is revised gearbox programming, which locks up the torque converter more readily to give a more-linear power delivery, and improves fuel efficiency and performance.
All-round comfort boost
Once again, this driving impression was far too brief to get a realistic verdict about the latest Hilux’s comfort levels, but the gravel- and concrete surfaces we encountered en route to the off-road trails did pass by without much fuss or jostling. The good news is that comfort levels in rather extreme off-road conditions are definitely improved, with a smoother ride over corrugations and stronger damping while rock-hopping. Those vaunted new cabin mounts certainly seem to be doing their bit as well.
If the new Hilux is this much more comfortable off-road, its on-road behaviour will probably mirror or amplify our bundu experience as well. It might not quite achieve Navara-levels of smoothness (it still rides on leaf springs, after all), but the Hilux should at the very least equal a Ranger or a Triton in this department, following this round of surgery.
Apart from minor finish changes (grey contrast stitching for the leather seats and so on), the new infotainment touchscreen is the most notable upgrade upon stepping up into the cabin. It looks much like the previous one, but the display quality is a leap ahead for the Hilux. The operating system also works a lot better than the old setup, and full smartphone mirroring is included in its abilities.
Of greater relevance to our off-roading excursion was the re-calibrated hill-descent control that’s included in the automatic-transmission 2.8 GD-6 variant. It gives a much lower (but still non-adjustable) crawl speed than the old system, and combines with the standard rear diff lock and low-range transfer case (operated via a simple button and a rotary switch, respectively) to give the Hilux class-competitive off-road abilities. Just slap a set of mud tyres on it, and you’re good to go pretty much anywhere.
Rather than a few major upgrades in some key areas, the new Hilux Legend represents a myriad of small improvements that makes for a whole that’s rather greater than the sum of its parts. We’re yet to see how the revised Hilux performs on real roads, whether its everyday comfort is at the level it should be, and whether the new driver-assistance technology will improve the driving experience, but the initial signs are promising indeed. Things are looking ever-better for Zimbabwe’s favourite bakkie.